“Around A Small Mountain” (“36 vues du Pic Saint”)
With Hollywood films, most movies fall in certain categories, and those categories have predictable formulas: the romantic comedy (both young singles and “mature” adults), the action/adventure, the chick-flick tear-jerker, the animated drama, the “adult” gross-out comedy, the ensemble-slice-of-life scenario, the uplifting true story simplified, the teen angst chronicle (often combined with the whimsical, like magic and vampires), the elongated music video, the family drama.  We seem to buy tickets to movies with predictable outcomes.  We want to look at beautiful people.  We want to be amused, or enthralled, and occasionally stimulated or even titillated.  We’re accustomed to rapidly-changing images and fast-paced plot development.  And the last thing we’re looking for is to be bored.
Well, with foreign films, you never quite know what to expect, which in itself is fascinating to some and disinteresting to others.  With a French film like “Around A Small Mountain,” you have no idea where this is going.  And you can’t hurry it along, either.  It is determined to go at its own meandering pace.  That’s part of the charm---or the frustration, and sometimes both at once.
Jane Birkin plays Kate, a woman whom we first encounter on a lonely road in the country with the hood up on her truck.  She’s peering into the engine, obviously uncertain what to do, and hoping someone will come along to help.  Sure enough, before long, there’s a flashy sports car, a convertible, but it roars around the corner without even slowing down, ignoring her and the plea of her silent wave.  But soon the sports car re-appears, and the man who gets out says not a single word as he peers into the hood, grabs a couple of loose wires and ties them together to jump-start the engine, then leaves.
 Kate seems a little nonplussed by the lack of conversation, but happily goes on her way, pulling into a little town, and beginning to set up a tent.  Then we find out that this is a circus, but not the kind of extravaganza that we in the U.S. have become accustomed to----there are no elephants or lions, no booming music (electronic or otherwise), no performing seals, no carnival barker type of master of ceremonies.  Just a few sad-looking clowns doing a routine (which they call “an entrance”), followed by a juggling act (featuring torches), and a little bit of floor gymnastics (they’ve become afraid of the high wire).  That’s it.  They’re like a sad little group of Gypsies, living in little trailers, performing inside a tent with portable metal stands, and very few people in attendance.  Then they strike the tent and move on to the next little village.  You can imagine that this is how a little independent circus might have been---several hundred years ago.  It’s as if time has stood still for them.  They patiently practice their ancient arts, unwilling to upgrade or update, which they see as compromising the integrity of their classic performances.
Kate is still grieving over the loss of her partner, who died in a tragic on-stage accident while performing their stunt with a whip, so she ran away, and now that she’s back, she’s still dealing with her loss of nerve and verve.  The newcomer, Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto) develops more than a casual interest in this pitiful lot of sad sacks; he thinks he can “fix” them.  And if he joined them, would he then “save” them?
Yes, this could be a parable about incarnation (Christ coming to save those helplessly stuck in their old ways), or even about the church (which would desperately need the energetic attention of a fresh infusion of participants), or even about politics (the new person on the scene salvaging the failed enterprise of the dispirited electorate).   Or, the story could simply stand on its own, but, dear viewer, you need to be prepared for large empty spaces in the plot development, and many silences, and much that is unexplained, unexamined, and not pursued.  In itself, it’s quiet, subdued, sublime, and small-scoped.  And it’s French (and therefore subtitled).  So it will struggle to find an audience here, even if it might be an effective parable.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas